Basic Listserv Etiquette

Happy Friday, dear colleagues and readers! Today's quick observations revolve around mass e-mail lists, usually organized and hosted by a professional organization. These are known as listservs, and they are a very valuable tool for translators and interpreters. We are members of myriad listservs hosted by many T&I organizations, such as ATA, NAJIT, Universitas Austria, and others. We have found these listservs to be very enriching, on both a professional and personal level.

Unfortunately, throughout the years we have noticed some very disheartening trends, including rude and completely inappropiate messages, personal insults, and everything in between. Perhaps it's a reflection of our society in general that civil discourse has deterioriated, but we still believe that most of these interactions can and should be positive. That being said: we do think some of the tone used on listservs is getting worse these days, and we'd like to share some thoughts on the topic. Ready for some tough love?

  1. Your colleagues and potential clients are reading what you post and respond. Keep in mind that responses and/or posts will go out to everyone on the listserv, which can be in the thousands. This is not the place to pick fights, air dirty laundry, or have unreasonsable disagreements with anyone in particular. Take those offline or contact the person in question directly. We don't frequently respond to posts, but we read most of them, and we always take note of unreasonable and disrespectful posters and make sure to not work with them -- and many other linguists do to the same. 
  2. Know your technology. Oftentimes we see linguists post along the lines of "Please remove me from these mass e-mails, they are stupid and annoying." Such a message is not only not appropiate to send to the entire community, but it also reveals a lack of understanding about technology in general and listservs in particular. You don't want to be known as the person who struggles with basic technology. In general, listservs are opt-in only, and the user controls how they want to receive messages. An "unsubscribe" link is usually conveniently located at the bottom of messages, but you have to unsubscribe yourself. No one can do it for you.
  3. Be helpful. The idea behind listservs is, in part, to strengthen the community from within by sharing information, resources, interesting articles about our profession, and to help solve tricky terminology issues. If you can contribute, be sure to do so -- but agree to disagree. There are many ways to skin a cat or to solve translation puzzles, and it's important to respect others' solutions. We've often found that arguing over who is right makes linguists seem petty and close-minded, and remember: those reading might become clients, and petty and close-minded are not good traits. Sorry about the tough love here, but we've literally seen (and read) it all, including colleagues being banned from listservs by the moderators (yes, really) for bad behavior. This is undoubtedly bad for your reputation and for your business.
  4. Think before you post. Translators spend a lot of time by themselves, so sometimes the almost-human interaction that listservs provide can be a very welcome distraction. That being said, think before you fire off a response in anger. You will never be able to take it back, and do you want, say, 3,000 of your colleagues reading something you wrote while angry? Don't do it. If you wouldn't say it to anyone's face, there's no reason to type it. The same rules of basic human decency still apply online, and you can't hide behind an anonymous e-mail address --although incredibly, some do.
  5. You don't have to read everything. Some of the complaints that are frequently aired is that "I don't find this interesting." Well, that's reality: you won't find everything that's posted interesting, but someone will. It's not about the individual, but about the community, and if you don't find the subject line interesting, don't read it. Our tip: switch your message delivery options to "daily digest" instead of getting each individual message or set up an e-mail rule on your Outlook (or whichever program you use) to send all listserv messages into a special folder so they bypass your inbox and you can read them at your leisure.
So that's it; a short summary of some things we think we can all do to make listservs even more enjoable for all. We'd love to hear your comments. 


prosch on June 28, 2017 at 8:12 AM said...


As a translation student and quite a fresh translator I agree with your main point. I think there are several basic skills we need and then some secondary ones, though these are important, too. I have recently conducted an interview with a Polish translator, Ania Plank, and she underlined the importance of specialism, too. I think it is very logical. You can't really write anything good unless you know what you're talking about

Thanks for the nice post.

h on June 29, 2017 at 12:21 AM said...

As a translator student, I have learned alot from this, thanks for the good post

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 30, 2017 at 11:41 AM said...

@Prosch: Thanks for reading and for commenting. We completely agree with Ania that specializing is of utmost importance indeed. Many of our colleagues even have micro specializations or very defined niches, which is fantastic business strategy.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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